Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Reviews (page 1 of 5)

Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova Review

Overall rating: 5/10

Pros: one of the cheapest chain hotels in the area, enjoyable hot tub

Cons: tired building, freezing cold and dirty pool, sup-par breakfast

We arrived at the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova after about 5.5 hours of driving from Humboldt. From the outside the hotel looked a little dated, and I hoped it would be a bit nicer on the interior.

I’d booked a cash rate for our trip, as I was looking to maximize a promotion. At less than $100 per night, it was a pretty good deal, and not worth using points. I’d even booked a breakfast rate for about $4 more for all three of us.

Check in was smooth and easy. There was only one person in front of us, so we had to wait about 3 minutes. Our room was on the third floor, overlooking the pool.

Room at the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova

The room was adequate. For a Holiday Inn, it was the most dated and tired room I’d stayed in. The kids thought it was very nice, but they don’t exactly have the same metrics that I do.

The beds were a standard two queen. This is usually bearable when with raveling with our older two kids, but I did make my son sleep on the floor the final night of the trip so I could get a good night’s sleep.

The freshly jumped-on beds.

There was a standard desk, the TV, and a rather old AC/heating unit.

The bathroom was a typical tub/shower with the sink outside.

We did have a view of the pool. I never saw anyone in it. More on that in a moment.

On the whole, the room was definitely dated. Holiday Inns can be pretty hit or miss. I’ve stayed in several, and the experiences have ranged from the low end of upscale to hardly better than a 2-star establishment you could get for $69 plus tax. My favorites are still the Holiday Inns in both Sydneys (one in Nova Scotia, the other a bit more famous, SEE: Holiday Inn Old Sydney Review).

Pool and Hot Tub

We hung out for a bit in the room before heading to the pool. I’d told the kids I’d swim if the water was warm (haha). I made it no further than my toes. It wasn’t just cold. It was frigid. That’s what we get for taking a trip in the winter! It would have been a different story if we were visiting the Sacramento area in the summer.

The kids hardly swam, either, which says a lot. They were totally fine with the cold water at our hotel in Costa Rica, but this pool was a bit too much. They didn’t like the mess at the bottom, either.

BY contrast, the hot tub was amazing. It was large, and we had it completely to ourselves both times we used it. The cold air outside made it hard to leave to head back to our room.

Although I love taking my kids to see the sights, a necessary part of traveling with them is spending some relaxing “down time” at the hotel. The hot tub definitely let us do that.

Breakfast at the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova

Breakfast was in The Venetian Court, the hotel restaurant. The name might sound all hifalutin and fancy, but the place is pretty nondescript. There is no character or atmosphere to the restaurant at all.

I expected to have several menu options for breakfast, or a full buffet, but neither was offered. Instead, we were presented with a simple menu of three options:

So there you have it. Eggs with meat and potatoes, or pancakes, or oatmeal. Choose wisely.

Each of us ended up ordering something different. I didn’t plan things this way. None of us were impressed with any of the food.

The pancakes were actually slightly more appetizing than the plate of food I received, which says a lot. The quality of the potatoes and sausage was poor.

I’m not all that picky when it comes to food, so I easily finished it. But it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting for breakfast here. Neither of my kids finished their food, nor did either seem too thrilled with breakfast. But this doesn’t necessarily say a lot, as they turn their noses up at all kinds of things that are downright delicious.

My daughter wanted to enjoy some coffee. She knows the answer from me has been a continual “no.” The last thing that girl needs is caffeine.

Local Area

There really isn’t anything around the hotel. Rancho Cordova isn’t a place for walking or sightseeing. I hadn’t planned to do anything nearby, as all our activities were in Sacramento itself. We were only 20 minutes from Old Town Sacramento (SEE: Wandering through Old Town Sacramento, ALSO SEE: Visiting the California Railroad Museum) and the Zoo.


Overall, it was a pretty meh hotel. It’d probably be an adequate place in the summer, since the pool would be refreshing instead of frigid. But there really isn’t anything else to redeem the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova. The main reason I’d booked the hotel was to avoid paying $50 more for a room in the city center, plus also pay for parking (assuming I stuck with IHG). This was simply the cheapest hotel I could find to meet my Q1 2018 IHG accelerate promotion. The points haul from this stay and the resulting bonuses would allow us to stay here nearly 3 more nights. You can look at it as a 5-for-2 deal, even though we will use the points somewhere else.

All said and done, I’ll almost certainly pass it up next time I am in the area.

Centurion Lounge Las Vegas Review

Work sent me to Las Vegas for a couple days right at the end of 2017. Well, I actually was headed to Needles, California, but I had to fly into Las Vegas and drive the 2 hours south. Which was an adventure (nightmare?) in itself. When I headed home, I decided to check out the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas.

I have been to the Centurion Lounge SFO (SEE: Centurion Lounge SFO Review) several times and the Centurion Studio SeaTac once. While not the primary reason I picked up a Business Platinum Card from American Express (it was during the 100,000 MR bonus offer), the lounge access it provides has come in handy this year, most recently in Oakland (SEE: Escape Lounge Oakland review). I honestly didn’t expect to visit a Centurion Lounge after I won my first access from a Mommy Points giveaway, but I ended up getting the card the next month. Ironically, I’m probably going to drop it soon.

Arriving at the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas

The Centurion Lounge Las Vegas McCarran is located in Terminal 3. I dropped my rental car, quickly passed through security, and was on the tram under to the terminal in no time. Once in Terminal 3, you take the escalators up and turn left to head to the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas.

The front of the lounge is a bit more nondescript than the glass entry, greenery and vertical sign at SFO. I honestly almost missed it.

The lady at the front desk was friendly and professional, and she welcomed me as a first-timer to the Las Vegas location after asking whether I had visited previously. She provided a brief description of the facilities and services provided.

The space

The Centurion Lounge Las Vegas feels a bit larger than its counterpart in SFO. The space has similar seating, with some of the same pods and benches featured. I can imagine that all Centurion Lounges likely use the same style furniture.

A long wall separates the bar, food, and main dining area from much of the rest of the lounge. Facing the windows on the other side, the wall has several seating alcoves. I chose one of these initially to work from for a while.

centurion lounge las vegas

At the end there is a variety of seating. This also seemed like the quietest part of the lounge, as foot traffic is lessened. Had there been any open seats, I would have chosen to sit here.

There is a kids room at the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas, just like in San Francisco. It is a bit bigger. If only American Express hadn’t changed their entry policy and completely hosed families with more than one kid (SEE: American Express devalues lounge access, sticks it to families). Sigh.

Food at the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas

I didn’t bother checking out what the offerings were for breakfast. As I’d arrived at 10:00, it was still running. Instead, I simply got a coffee and sat down to write for a while.

The food changed after 11:00 to the lunch offerings. I eventually joined the line to grab myself a plate.

There was a decent salad selection that included peppers, carrots, cucumbers, cheese, and other items.

There was some ginger rice that I enjoyed. It was probably the best thing offered. There was also a sweet pea puree that I wasn’t keen on.

The meat offering was salmon. I found it mediocre. Definitely not full of flavor.

At the end was udon soup, which I didn’t try.

On the whole, the food at the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas wasn’t quite as good as what I’ve had at SFO. It was a decent lunch, but nothing stood out to me.

Per usual, I didn’t try anything at the bar. I’m sure it had a good selection of alcoholic beverages.

Overall experience

I was happy with the seating, food, and experience overall. The WiFi caused me some issues a few times, but I the root cause might have been my own computer. Each time it would cut out for about 3 minutes, before finally coming back. I would turn my WiFi on and off a few times until it would finally reconnect.

The lounge was fairly crowded when I arrived, and it got an even bit more so as lunchtime approached. I had not expected this, but it rivaled the insanity of the Centurion SFO for a while.

When I got up to go to the bathroom, my seat was occupied when I returned (since I took all my stuff with me), and I had trouble finding another. Things got better after 1:00 p.m. and then even kinda quiet by 2:30.

The line for the food around noon was definitely a turn off. I watched and waited for a good 15 minutes before getting up to grab something to eat.


The ability to grab lunch, sit somewhere quiet and comfortable, and be productive for a few hours in the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas was invaluable. It is also nice to have access to better WiFi (except for a few blips) and cleaner bathrooms than in the terminal. Nothing stood out to me as “above and beyond”, but the lounge is still definitely a step up from the typical United Club or Delta SkyClub.

Hotel Punta Leona Review – Stellar Price for an All-Inclusive

My wife and I are in the process of moving from just the two of us to a family of five. After literally years of waiting, we are now in Costa Rica adopting three beautiful kids. Our focus during these weeks in Costa Rica is on bonding with our kids. But this doesn’t mean we can’t take them on a few trips to see their own beautiful country. In other words, we’re taking a couple overnight trips while we’re here, and the first was to Hotel Punta Leona.

Our adoption coordinator set us up with a great rate at the hotel for a couple days midweek. Hotel Punta Leona was running a special, and we were able to book a room for $158 per night, all meals included. For a family of five, this is *amazing*.

Arriving at the Hotel Punta Leona

The Hotel Punta Leona is located on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. It is about an hour and a half drive from SJO airport, and a little bit further than that from San José itself. A good portion of the drive is on Costa Rica’s only real freeway, so it is a lot easier to access than many other places in the country.

The turn off to Hotel Punta Leona is a little north of Jacó. Once you turn off the highway, the road is dirt essentially until you arrive at the hotel property.

The facilities reception have a manned security gate. After explaining that we had a reservation, the guard let us through half a minute later. It’s not that Costa Rica isn’t safe. I’ve just noticed that many places have manned security or attendants, including parking lots and other places that would be totally mundane in the U.S.

Check-in went smoothly, except for the fact that the hotel was currently without a computerized reservation system. The front desk even had to use one of the ancient, manual sliding credit card machines. With my Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa card that doesn’t have a nicely embossed front. Didn’t work so well. She had to manually write the numbers and other info.

Selvamar Room…for the 5 of us!

The Selvamar rooms are located a distance from reception and the rest of the facilities, so we had to hop back into the car and drive a couple minutes.

I knew going into this that the room was going to be small. It didn’t disappoint.

It was a fairly standard hotel room with two full-size beds, a desk, TV, and in-room coffee.

The bathroom was adequate. Overall, it was a tight squeeze for all of us for two days. But it was a deal!

The Selvamar rooms are at least in a nice setting. There rooms are arranged in groups of 4 with walkways and gardens in between. At dusk there were monkeys to watch swinging and climbing through the foliage above.

And there were iguanas along the path at times. Even though our daughter is a native Costa Rican, they totally freak her out!

There was also a small pool close to the restaurant and Selvamar rooms. Given the much nicer facilities elsewhere, we never used it.

Hotel Punta Leona Restaurant – Carabelas

Included in our rate were all meals at the restaurant near the Selvamar Rooms. It was a quick two-minute walk away.

Everything at Carabela’s is buffet style. I’d rate the food as above average as far as buffets go. Most tasted super fresh. The beef at our first lunch was amazing. There was typically enough variety that anyone would be satisfied.

They had starters and a nice salad bar.

Every meal featured a chef at the grill or stovetop making part of the meal. The first evening it was churrasco.


And other entrees and sides.

Soft drinks were self serve. You could also order beer or wine. A server kindly offered both evenings, but we declined.

In the mornings we had an immersive breakfast experience with the local wildlife. We were approached by both monkeys and a coatimundi.

I had a good laugh when a monkey stole some food from a guest on our first morning. I wasn’t laughing when the same thing happened to me the next day!

Hotel Punta Leona Facilities

The facilities of the Hotel Punta Leona are spread out over a fairly large area. The main highlight for the kids were, of course, the large pools.

hotel punta leona pool

Compared to the other hotel at which we are staying for the bulk of the time in Costa Rica, they were wondrously warm.

There is also an activity center with foosball and other games if you happen to be at the resort during a downpour. Fortunately, the rain that had been a fixture every afternoon let up for both days we were at the coast. On the other side of the pool there is another restaurant. Our all-inclusive rate included snacks here from 10:00 to 5:00. We enjoyed some pizza the first afternoon, and then a raccoon that got a bit too close for comfort.

I promised our six-year-old that I’d take him to mini-golf. On our second afternoon we got the chance. What wasn’t explained to me was that some of the activities cost extra, and this was one of them. I’d figured that most of the activities listed on the paper given to us at check-in were part of the resort package and included in the rate.

So, we ended up paying about $11 for three of us to play mini-golf. Which ended up being a hysterical experience. After trying for maybe a minute to instruct them (as best I can…I’m no golfer), I gave up. They ended up racing through the entire course is a matter of 15 minutes, often swatting the ball as hard as they could and sending into the grass beyond the hole or onto another section of the course. I was content to watch and laugh while proceeding through the course behind them.

This was the worst mini-golf hole ever.

Some of the other activities and facilties offered by the hotel include a butterfly house, a morning nature walk, pool volleyball, and bingo and karaoke in the evenings. We didn’t take advantage of any of these. Turns out that basically all kids want to do is swim.

Playa Mantas

The bulk of the fun was had at Playa Mantas over our stay. We went swimming there the afternoon we arrived and the following morning. The waves were super calm, and the water was heavenly. I’d never swam in water so warm.

Now I finally understand why people enjoy beach destinations so much. I might have to revise my list of places I want to visit to include some more beach destinations. Growing up on the north coast of California has left me with a poor view of “going to the beach”, where the outing typically means a cold breeze and sand flying in my eyes. I’ll pass.

In contrast, this was like a tiny sliver of heaven on earth. I’d enjoyed walking in the surf in Florida in May, but this was even better. I could have swam all day. Unfortunately, swimming ended up resulting in a little incident that cost us a bit of time and money.

Playa Blanca

The final morning we paid the other beach a quick visit. It is a bit further from the facilities of Punta Leona, but it is a whole lot more beautiful than Playa Mantas.

However, there were red flags out warning against swimming. Luckily, we weren’t there to swim, but simply to play in the sand for a while and enjoy the beautiful setting. Afterwards we headed back, ate breakfast at Carabelas once again, and then took off.


Overall, we had a good stay. Although it would have been nice to rent a larger room for the 5 of us, we really couldn’t beat the rate the hotel gave us for the single room under the September kids promotion. In contrast, I sent the hotel an email asking what the day-use rate would be per person. We realized that it isn’t all that far away from San José. I almost spit out my coffee this morning when they quoted me $85 per person over 6 years old!

DoubleTree Bend Oregon Review

Overall rating: 9/10

Location: Bend, Oregon

My wife and I headed through Bend, Oregon as part of a weekend away enjoying some time together before seeing the Great American Eclipse. Friday was an overnight in northern California after an imaging appointment, and then Sunday was our night in Clackamas before the eclipse (SEE: Travel hacking win: booking last minute eclipse travel).

We could have gone home for Saturday, but I figured it would be more fun to enjoy a drive through northeastern California. Plus, I found Hilton availability on Saturday and pounced on it. Only 40,000 Honors points for a $280 (pre-tax) room is a deal.

Arriving at the DoubleTree Bend, Oregon

The drive was both uneventful and enjoyable. We’d never been through northeastern California, and it was quite fun to see a new section of the state. I with the view wouldn’t have been lessened by smoke from the many forest fires, though.

We hit a bit of traffic near La Pine, and this made me stat considering how we were going to get to Portland the next day (SEE: Do I avoid eclipse traffic? Or just head through the thick of it?). Finally, we pulled up at the DoubleTree Bend, Oregon after over 8 hours of driving. I did the hoity-toity thing and parked in one of the exclusive Diamond member spots.

I’d booked a queen-queen room online, as it was the cheapest option available. The guy at the front desk confirmed that this is what we wanted, to which I said no. A king room would be preferred. It took him a minute to make us new keys, and then we were on our way upstairs.


The front desk made no mention of upgrading us, but we ended up walking into a one bedroom king suite. This made me doubly glad I’d asked for a change of bed type!

DoubleTree Bend Oregon review

DoubleTree Bend Oregon One Bedroom Suite Pano

The room had a pseudo-“kitchenette” area (not a true kitchen) to the left as you walk in. The wet bar was extremely appreciated, though, as my wife and I routinely cook in hotel rooms.

It was open to the living area, with narrow bar area between, a nice design.

The living area was plenty big for two people and included a desk, television, and small couch and an armchair.

DoubleTree Bend Oregon review

It was plenty big for the two of us.

The bedroom was small, but it was nice that it was separate. I like being able to get up and turn on some lights while letting my wife sleep in.

The bathroom was clean and everything a 3-star hotel should have. There was no phone in the bathroom, a tell-tale sign of fanciness.

Overall, we were very pleased with the accommodations for our one night.


After making dinner and relaxing for a while, my wife and I headed down to the pool area for a nice soak in the hot tub. The pool was fairly small, and there were very few people who used it while we were there, which surprised me. I figured the hotel was nearly full with the eclipse happening in two days.

The DoubleTree Bend also has a small exercise room. All of these facilities are located on the lowest floor.


Since I’d been matched to Diamond yet again for 2017, breakfast was included. Actually, it would have been anyway since I would have still had Hilton Gold status through my Amex Business Platinum card.

The breakfast was good, but nothing special. It was a buffet style, and cash price was only $9.99, which I consider reasonable for hotel breakfast. There were quite a few people there when I was eating, so I didn’t want to awkwardly take pictures with everyone trying to move around me. So I only got a photo of my plate.

DoubelTree Bend Oregon Breakfast

Mixed fruit, small omelets (with salsa and cheese), and tater tots for me. There were some muffin and bagel options, and a few other dishes. I’m calling it adequate, but sub-par for a DoubleTree. Honestly, I’ve only stayed at one other DoubleTree, though, so that is my only metric for comparison.

Exploring Bend

I explored Bend a bit in the morning while my wife slept in. The DoubleTree is in a very nice location in the middle of town, quite close to the river. I had a pleasant walk along the river before heading to a coffee shop for a while.

Later in the day my wife and I both took a stroll together. The riverside park area is quite nice, and the weather was fantastic (except for the smoke).

We finally had to check out at 1 p.m. I asked for later checkout than this, but the front desk was fairly firm that this was the best he could do. I couldn’t argue, knowing that he undoubtedly had a full house that night.


I’m definitely looking at this hotel if we ever pass through the area again. We were treated well by the staff, got a nice upgrade, and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. We’ll have to visit Bend again when there is no eclipse traffic and no smoke from numerous forest fires.

Centurion Lounge SFO Review

Back in 2016 I was the lucky winner of a MommyPoints giveaway, scoring a Centurion Lounge Pass. I used it, in combination with a United voucher from a voluntary bump, for a super quick overnight flying-for-the-heck-of it trip. The easiest location to visit was hands-down the Centurion Lounge SFO.

Little did I know that I’d be back to visit this particular lounge several times over 2017.

Accessing the Centurion Lounge SFO

To visit any Centurion Lounge, you must be an American Express cardholder. However, with most Amex cards, you’ll have to purchase a day pass to access the lounge, to the tune of $50. Day pass access is also not guaranteed, as the lounge is capacity-controlled. Considering that the Centurion Lounge SFO is often packed, you may have difficulty going the day pass route.

The other way to access the Centurion Lounge network is being either a Platinum or Centurion cardholder. Since a Centurion card is out of the question for most people, the best way to access the lounge is via either a Business Platinum card or one of the many flavors of the Personal Platinum card.

As I have a business incorporating a couple side gigs, I decided to pull the trigger on a Business Platinum card when the sign-up bonus was increased to 100,000 Membership Rewards points (SEE: 6 Best Amex Transfer Partners). The card carries a hefty $450 annual fee (personal version costs $550). But, it’s a write-off.

Arriving at the Centurion Lounge SFO

The Centurion Lounge at San Francisco International Airport is located in Terminal 3 near gate 74 . Since Terminal 3 is connected to International Terminal G via a post-security walkway, you can access the lounge from either of these terminals.

If you’re not flying United or one of the StarAlliance partners that uses International Terminal G, accessing the Centurion Lounge SFO will be a bit more of a headache. You’ll have to pass through security (probably explaining to the TSA agent that you are visiting a lounge) into Terminal 3, but will have to exit and go through security again into terminals 1, 2, or International A.

You really can’t miss the entrance to the Centurion Lounge SFO. The front is all glass, and you’ll see the stairs and elevator heading up to the floor above. The lounge itself overlooks part of Terminal 3 below, but you really don’t get any views of either the terminal or the tarmac, unless you sit right up next to the window. My favorite lounge view so far was (amazingly) at the McCarran United Club.

Seating at the Centurion Lounge SFO

There is a great variety of seating at the Centurion Lounge SFO. The lounge is essentially divided into two parts. Near the bar and food area there are a number of tables where many people tend to eat. I avoid this side of the lounge since it tends to get crowded.

There is a middle area across from the front desk. I’ve never found it to be an appealing place to sit, either. I guess it would be if you’re highly interested in the news. The coffee station is also located here.

Personally, I much prefer the other side of the lounge with it’s variety of seating. There are a couple couches, some armchairs, and some different booth-style seats for 1 or two people. If you’re trying to be productive, I’d pick the large table with a number of outlets to keep your laptop and other devices charged.

Centurion Lounge SFO Review

Today we picked one of the small wall couches along the far side of the lounge.

Family area

The Centurion Lounge SFO does feature a kids play room. Unfortunately, American Express has totally socked it to families in terms of lounge access, so we probably won’t be enjoying the kids room with our family. It would cost another $175 per year. We likely won’t be passing through SFO again anyway on this trip, but it’s a bit of a bummer of the future. This change might also might result in me dropping the card next year.

Centurion Lounge SFO family room

The kids area features toys, a TV, and seating for parents. I’d say it hits capacity at only two parents with a couple kids each, so it’s not all that big. But then again, there typically aren’t that many families with young children passing through the lounge at the same time. I only saw two with young kids during our three hours there.

Food at the Centurion Lounge SFO

While I haven’t visited all that many domestic lounges, the food at the Centurion Lounge SFO is far better than any of the other lounges I’ve visited. All of the United Clubs I’ve visited have had meager food offerings. But free is free (when you’re using a complimentary one time pass), so I’m not really complaining.

The food at the Centurion Lounge SFO, however, is great. Dinner often consists of chicken, pork belly, rice, and some other great dishes. I’ve been through here 3 or 4 times in the evening, and the food has typically been the same offerings.

Breakfast is good as well. Unlike other lounges that only offer light options like fruit, yogurt, and pastries, the Centurion Lounge SFO actually has a full breakfast. Today the selections included breakfast sandwiches, frittata, eggs, as well as fruit and pastries. It was a good start to the day, especially after having hardly eaten since we woke up at 3:00 a.m.

Centurion Lounge SFO food

There is a full bar at the Centurion Lounge SFO, and from what I understand, it’s a rather good one. They have a selection of wine, and plenty of other options. I’ve never sampled any of it, so I can’t really report on this aspect. 😉

Crowding at the Centurion Lounge SFO

The lounge has been typically crowded most of the times I’ve been here. Occupancy is usually highest in the evening, while this morning was relatively quiet. The longer we’re here, however, the more people arrive. Now the place is hopping at almost 10:00 a.m.

The worst experience was a night when there were numerous delayed United flights. The Centurion Lounge SFO was completely packed, and it was extremely hard for me to find a single seat. I had to wander for a while before someone finally got up and left. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, I might keep a couple United Club passes on hand (if you have the Explorer card) to see if any of those are better.

Other amenities

Like most lounges there are boards showing flight departures and a couple TVs showing the news . It’s also nice to have very clean bathrooms rather than the high-traffic ones in the terminal.

The Centurion Lounge SFO also offers free WiFi, of course. I find it very handy that the password has not changed the entire time I’ve been visiting, making it easy to just remember the network on my phone and type it in each time. While SFO offers free WiFi in the terminals, the internet speed at the Centurion is far better.


The Centurion Lounge SFO is a nice oasis if you’re flying in or out of the Bay frequently. While some people might not be able to justify the $450 annual fee for a Business Platinum card, if you travel enough, the other perks of the card could make it worth obtaining.

SFO map image and Business Platinum card image courtesy of American Express. 

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